- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

TWT’s George Lanum blogged live from the annual Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival, headlined this year by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Phish:

Monday, June 15, 2:25 a.m.

MANCHESTER, Tenn — “I am really excited to see Merle Haggard,” said Kelly Blake who drove more than an hour from Nashville in an RV with a group of friends to the 8th annual Bonnaroo music and arts festival here.

It took Bonnaroo nearly eight years to shed its image as a jam band music festival and yet even with the top jam band Phish headlining, the annual festival was far from returning to its roots.

Along with Phish, the festival was headlined by rock icons The Beastie Boys and Grammy-award winning artist Bruce Springsteen. Some of the other acts on the bill included beach music extraordinaire Jimmy Buffet — a surprise add to the line-up on Saturday, the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, former Talking Heads front man David Byrne and rap/hip-hop artists like Public Enemy and the notorious Snoop Dogg.

To discount Phish’s effect on Bonnaroo this year would be to dismiss the driving force for a lot of the festival goers.

Jenn De Marco, 24, who drove from Cincinnati, Ohio, with her friends, said Phish was her main reason for coming. This was her first Bonnaroo.

“We tried to get tickets (to other Phish shows) through their lottery, but we got shut out.” Miss De Marco said. “We rented the last RV — we played our cards right — we were meant to come to Bonnaroo.”

Ken Weinstein of Big Hassle Media, the promotion company for Bonnaroo, pegged the festival at nearly 75,000 — “just shy of a sellout,” he said.

Tents with odd names like “the other tent,” “this tent,” and “that tent” all featured music arranged by a specific genre. One tent exclusively featuring bluegrass artists such as Tony Rice and the Del McCoury band. Another tent featured hard rock and thrash metal while another tent focused on more eclectic music.

In addition to the music, Bonnaroo included opportunities for education on everything from conservation and recycling to vegetable fermentation.

Miss De Marco who runs a fermenting business at fabferments.com said she was interested to see if she could learn anything new.

The Less-Bottled Water program hosted by STANLEY nineteen13 (yes, that’s what it’s called) tried to educate festival goers about the water issue and the waste associated with plastic water bottles.

The company was selling Bonnaroo-themed STANLEY metal water bottles and providing filter water refill stations.

Joann Anderson, a public relations representative with the company, said that each reusable water bottle saves about 24 plastic water bottles over the course of the weekend festival.

Beyond the music and education, Bonnaroo was packed with comedy and a theater tent. An arcade appealed to the gamers at the event. For those not afraid of the heights or carnival rides, the festival featured a full-sized Ferris wheel. The festival also featured art installations that dotted the landscape.

Aside from the round-the-clock entertainment, Bonnaroo for many was about something more universal than even a simple drum circle.

Wayne Emerson, of Fort Worth, Texas, and in the Army on leave from Iraq, decided to use one of his two weeks home to come to Bonnaroo. Mr. Emerson had attended Bonnaroo in 2008.

“I came for the music and to hang out with friends, he said. “Some of my buddies are getting married, and we are getting a little older, so it is great to be able to hang out.”

Jim Jackson, 46, from Nashville, also traveling with Mr. Blake, 45, said, “We all have wives and kids. So we got a pass from our wives to come down and have a little fun.” It was the first time either had attended the annual music festival.

Bonnaroo wasnt all roses for everyone. Set on 700 acres of former farm land, some campsites were almost two miles from Centeroo, the main festival area. Apart from long walks, some festival goers were plagued by lengthy waits to get onto the festivals grounds as security checked bags.

The festival was battered by heavy storms on Thursday, but by Sunday that was a distant memory dried out by clear skies and a blazing sun.

Jim Jackson who was going to leave before the end of the festival because of work said that “even though we take a couple of trips to Talladega every year, but this is completely different.) There are so many people here and they are all just trying to have a good time. He said he would definitely come back.

Miss De Marco said, “The bands bring the vibe,” but she wasn’t quite as sure about returning. “If Phish comes back, I will definitely come back.”


Sunday, June 14, 1:25 a.m.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. signaled a break between the environmentalist movement and the Obama administration over plans announced Friday for dealing with mountaintop removal and called for civil disobedience to end the practice.

The environmentalist movement is “heartbroken,” Mr. Kennedy said Saturday at Bonnaroo.

“Nothing will change on the ground,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy called for civil disobedience to stop coal companies from mountaintop removal, inviting anyone who was willing to get arrested. He said that he is now “gearing up with war.”

“If a foreign enemy did to this country what the coal industry has done, we would say that it was an act of war.”

Mr. Kennedy, who has called mountaintop removal “the worst environmental catastrophe to happen to this country,” had signaled in March that he was hopeful over the Obama administration decision to suspend coal companies’ permits to dump debris.

He said that the administrations rhetoric didn’t match the plans detailed in a teleconference Friday between Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and other administration officials and members of the media.

Mr. Kennedy along with several groups such as Natural resources defense council, ilovethemountains.org and rain forest action network and waterkeepers are renewing calls for civil disobedience in protest of mountaintop removal.

“At some point it is the only tool that you have,” Mr. Kennedy said equating his intentions with the actions of Henry David Thoreau and the Founding Fathers. “Civil disobedience is not only right but it is our responsibly,” he said.

Mr. Kennedy also decried the Environmental Protect agencys issue of so-called “fill rule” under the Bush administration that reversed 30-year-old laws barring coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams.

“Carbon is treason to our country and humanity,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It is more important to change politicians than light bulbs.”

The process of mountaintop removal involves leveling the top of a mountain in order to more easily and safely reach the coal under the surface. Critics of the process say that the byproducts and debris bury streams, destroy and pollute the local habitat. Many of these critics have called for outright ban of mountaintop removal.


Saturday, June 13, 12:33 a.m.

Comedian Janeane Garofalo described President Obama as disappointing in what was described a rant while speaking to members of the media at Bonnaroo.

She was asked whether the election of Mr. Obama had changed the nature of her standup comedy, which includes political humor.

“People thought Obama was going to be different,” Ms. Garofalo said. “But some of things he agreed to in the name of bipartisanship have been disappointing.”

Ms. Garofalo cited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of her displeasure.

Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco was quick to disagree, defending the president by citing his push for unity and understanding.

Mr. Obama “is trying to teach us all to be more like family — to do less criticizing and to practice more forgiveness,” she said.

When asked if Ms. DiFranco was just preaching to the choir, Ms. Garofalo responded, “If preaching to the choir is a crime then we should close all of the churches.”


Friday, June 12, 11:42 p.m.

MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Rain threatened to turn the eighth annual Bonnaroo arts and music festival into “Mud-aroo” Friday morning as storms battered the area leaving upended tents and destroyed shade canopies.

Paul Wallace was in his tent as the storm blew in. With little to hold his shade tent down, a strong gust of wind picked it up and slammed it through the tent of Rachel Madcap, one of his neighbors.

“Mother Nature really had her way with us,” Mr. Wallace said.

Mr. Wallace, 33, who had traveled from Caroline County, Va., wasn’t going to left it get him down but he said that he felt really bad about what happened to his neighbor’s tent and offered his van to anyone who needed a dry place to sleep.

Ms. Madcap, of Nashville, seemed understanding about her tent and was thankful Mr. Wallace offered up his vehicle.

The heavy storms sent many of festival-goers to their tents early. For an event with prides itself on running until the early hours of the morning, many other festival-goers were ready with their galoshes and ponchos.

Andrew Watkins sat the first storm out but got a second wind. When a break in the weather came, Mr. Watkins was off to explore the surrounding area.

“It really started coming down, later,” Mr. Watkins said. “But I’m really glad that I went out. I saw some crazy stuff — I feel bad for the people whose tents got flipped over.

“I’m glad I brought an RV,” Mr. Watkins said with a smile.

Annika Lapako, 22, was driving a large golf cart for Fast Taxi, the company providing festival-goers with ride to stop for a small fee.

Ms. Lapako said that she quit driving a couple of hour early because the rain was so hard.

“The rain was piercing my eyes,” said Ms. Lapako, of Minneapolis. “Not only did it hurt but it didn’t feel safe.”

When the morning light finally came, the rain had long let up. But in its wake were long mud patches where there had once been worn grass.

Cars and RVs that continued to flow in overnight hadn’t help; nor did the early risers eager to start their day. The festival staff worked to control the mud, bringing in mulch and sand.

For hundreds of fans had already gathered in the Other Tent waiting for the African-inspired Vieux Farka Toure to begin just after noon, the mud proved more than just something to avoid but was quickly becoming a safety issue in one of the giant tents.

Many near the front of the stage found themselves in mud up to their ankles.

An announcer from the stage urged those in the audience to move out of the tent so that sand could be spread around the area.

In the spirit of cooperation and with little hesitation, fans waiting to see a band gave up their spaces. Dump trucks waiting in the wing quickly dropped loads of sand and a front-loader appeared out of no where to spread it around.

The band, already on stage warming up, began to play along as the workers moved sand. The members of the audience watched with the curiosity of a child as a normal process became a novelty.

Shortly after the front-loader pulled away, the crowd left out a cheer and ran in to retake their positions like children jumping a pool after a mandatory rest.

As with many events at the festival, increased curiosity is seen in the mundane while an unbreakable fascination is found in the extraordinary.

Staged by A.C. Entertainment and Superfly productions on 700 acres of former farm land, the Bonnaroo music and arts festival features more than 150 acts that provide music, comedy or other special performances. The festival, now in its eighth year, is home for more than 75,000 fans every year for one weekend in June.

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